With each passing minute, the lump in my throat is getting bigger. The enduring sickness of my weekend has given way to the new found sickness brought on by the possibilities of today.
In short, head coach Rob Jeter is the leading candidate to replace Jim Les as head coach at Bradley University.
I get why Bradley is attractive. Large turnout. The “only show in town.” The draw of a program where you are the biggest game not only on campus, but in the entire region, is something that always gets me. I want that for Milwaukee one day, but I know it’s a long way out.
But I also know that the fan base at Bradley is dying. Peoria is a nice town, but it’s no Milwaukee. And the MVC, as great of a conference as it is, got passed up by the Horizon League.
I really don’t care to knock Bradley, though. In our visit there for the BracketBuster a few years ago, I had nothing but great things to say about the place, and I still do. I hope they get a great coach to take over the program, and I’d like that coach to begin a home-and-home series with Milwaukee as soon as possible.
I just don’t want that coach to be Rob Jeter.
There’s one sentence that keeps coming up in my mind. It’s a sentence that I don’t know if I’ve ever said, or written on this blog, but it’s something that has been circling my thoughts since the victory at Cleveland State.
There is no greater feeling then having faith rewarded.
I was walking into St. Sebastien’s Church in the old Irish neighborhood of Milwaukee when I got the text – we won. We won the Horizon League Championship, and had hosting rights through the tournament.
All I could think about was the past six years. I thought about my first game in the student section, when I got the laughs of the leaders for starting a tasteless “Terminal” chant at a poor, scrawny Upper Iowa player with pasty white skin and a shaved head.
I thought about asking coach Jeter a poorly-worded question about the swing’s “slow” offense and getting it thrown back in my face. I thought about all the trips to Hinkle Fieldhouse, the infamous car breakdown on the Meridian off ramp.
I thought about stretching my poor college dollar to the breaking point to go to Peoria, Illinois, and Ames, Iowa, and Fargo, North Dakota. I’ve become more familiar with the UIC Pavilion and Gentile Center than I am with many of the buildings on our own campus. Spending the night at a hotel in Kalamazoo, Michigan just to get a break driving to an afternoon game at Detroit. Tommy Dunne’s car getting stuck in the mud at Valparaiso, and all the mud that covered us as we tried to get it out.
The thing that I’ll remember most of all was standing there over winter break for a game against Wyoming, jawing with Brandon Ewing and D’Aaron Brown despite the fact that the Cowboys had more people than the student section.
I’ve stayed in more hotels than I care to count, driven more miles in shaky cars than my parents ever knew, and been to more games than I care to admit.
And I did all of it – all of it – because I believed.
I had faith. Faith that Rob Jeter, Brian Bidlingmyer, Duffy Conroy, Chad Boudreau, Chip MacKenzie and Ronnie Jones would pool their efforts and bring us back to the Promised Land.
Faith that despite the early missteps, they would hang banners at the Cell and do it the “right way.”
The right way came first. The student-athletes that have come through this program in the past six seasons have been exactly that – student-athletes – and I have firsthand experience seeing it. I’ve had classes with players, been in study groups with players, been in study groups led by players.
They may not have a term for it. There is no catchy “Butler Way.” But the program has a code of conduct in the classroom, on the court and in life that these players are living, makes me proud as anyone that I call myself a Milwaukee Panther.
Two players, Anthony Hill and Ricky Franklin, stand out in my mind. Both were young, immature, fathers before they were ready. Their respective games were a microcosm of their lives – wild and undeveloped. But over time in the program, they became two of the school’s all-time greats. That’s my humble opinion, but Ricky and Anthony grew up in their time here, became attentive fathers, great players, college graduates. Most importantly, they became great men.
And that is because of Rob Jeter. He and his staff recruited both players and carefully helped mold them into the people we are so proud of today.
It would be a damn shame to lose that. Coach Jeter may not be the kind of guy to climb on a table and throw tickets to students. He may not be the guy who knows how to sell a mid-major program to a city full of Bucky’s faithful.
But that’s our coach. He built a program, from the ground up, and he did it while under tremendous scrutiny from a fan base with extreme recent success and a ravenous hunger for more.
I believed in coach. That’s why Travis Wacker, Keerin Pinch and Jose Matamoros went into the ghetto last year to get us those “In Jeter We Trust” t-shirts. Because when his job was on the line, we wanted to show a certain someone that we were behind him.
It was that same certain someone that had a fan, one morning, burst into the AD’s office to argue for Jeter’s job. Not many people know that. Fewer than that know that fan wasn’t the only person to get into an argument with a certain someone that day, and I’ll say that “certain someone” is frightening when they’re steaming and staring you down, especially when no one is left in the office.
I hope that they know the lengths some of us went to at the end of last season. It’s not easy to stick your neck out there time and time again, but we’ve backed them through thick and thin. Once again, because we have faith. I hope that should he be weighing an offer from Bradley, coach Jeter takes that faith into account.
If the worst comes to pass, and coach Jeter and his staff move on to Peoria, I hope they do well. I’ll be in attendance at their first NCAA Tournament game as a coaching staff since their first season in Milwaukee. But my place is here, in Milwaukee, at Milwaukee.
I just hope they realize that this is their place too.
In Jeter We Trust